United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER ON MOTIONS
C. WILKINSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
None (on the briefs)
(1) Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses,
Record Doc. No. 12; (2) Defendants' Motion to Stay
Discovery and Reset Deadlines, Record Doc. No. 14
(2): GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as provided
herein. Defendants' motion to dismiss this case under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on qualified immunity grounds is
pending and noticed for submission on September 18, 2019.
Record Doc. No. 13. “Generally, a plaintiff may not
obtain discovery against a party asserting qualified immunity
until the Court first finds that the pleadings assert facts
sufficient to overcome the qualified immunity defense.”
Nelms v. City of Waxahachie, 2008 WL 11425663, at *1
(N.D. Tex. Mar. 17, 2008) (citing Wicks v. Mississippi
State Employment Servs., 41 F.3d 991, 994 (5th Cir.
1995)). In Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1434 (5th
Cir. 1995), the Fifth Circuit held that when defendants raise
a qualified immunity defense, the district court
“may ban discovery . . . and may limit any
necessary discovery to the defense of qualified
immunity.” (Emphasis added). “If the complaint
alleges facts to overcome the defense of qualified immunity,
the district court may then proceed . . . to allow
the discovery necessary to clarify those facts upon which the
immunity defense turns.” Wicks, 41 F.3d 991 at
995 (citations omitted) (emphasis added).
The doctrine of qualified immunity offers a shield against
civil liability for government employees “insofar as
their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.” . . . . “[W]hether an official
protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable
for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on
the objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in
light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the
time it was taken.”
Wernecke v. Garcia, 591 F.3d 386, 392-93 (5th Cir.
2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982); Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231
Fifth Circuit has emphasized that
“[q]ualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather
than a mere defense to liability.” Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 237 (2009) (internal quotation
marks omitted). . . . [I]mmunity is “effectively lost
if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial” . .
. . Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526-27 . . .
(1985). This court has applied Mitchell to trial
court discovery orders that, through overbreadth, effectively
deprive public officials of an immunity from suit.
Wicks[, 41 F.3d at 994-95.]
One of the most salient benefits of qualified immunity is
protection from pretrial discovery, which is costly,
time-consuming, and intrusive, Helton v. Clements,
787 F.2d 1016, 1017 (5th Cir. 1986). Consequently, this court
has established a careful procedure under which a district
court may defer its qualified immunity ruling if further
factual development is necessary to ascertain the
availability of that defense. As we explained in
Wicks, supra, a district court must first
find “that the plaintiff's pleadings assert facts
which, if true, would overcome the defense of qualified
immunity.” Id.; see also Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 . . . (2009) (directing that
a plaintiff must “state a claim for relief that is
plausible on its face”- excluding statements that are
“no more than conclusions” which are “not
entitled to the assumption of truth”). Thus, a
plaintiff seeking to overcome qualified immunity must plead
specific facts that both allow the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
harm he has alleged and that defeat a qualified immunity
defense with equal specificity. After the district
court finds a plaintiff has so pled, if the court remains
“unable to rule on the immunity defense without further
clarification of the facts, ” it may issue a discovery
order “narrowly tailored to uncover only those facts
needed to rule on the immunity claim.” Lion Boulos
[v. Wilson, 834 F.2d 504, 507-08 (5th Cir. 1987)].
Backe v. LeBlanc, 691 F.3d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 2012).
these standards, plaintiffs request for an order requiring
responses to his discovery requests at any time while the
qualified immunity motion to dismiss is pending and for
sanctions is denied. Instead, defendants will be required to
respond and/or object to the subject discovery requests only
if and after the court denies the pending motion to dismiss.
In their motion to stay, defendants state that they
“may conduct discovery” if their motion is
denied. Record Doc. No. 14-1 at p. 3. Accordingly, IT IS
ORDERED that all discovery is temporarily stayed as follows.
Discovery may commence only if and after the pending motion
to dismiss is denied, in which case defendants must provide
their responses and/or objections to the subject discovery no
later than 21 days after entry of the court's order
denying the motion to dismiss. All objections are
FURTHER ORDERED that defendants' request in its motion to
reset deadlines is denied as premature. The current deadlines
to complete discovery and to file pretrial motions do not
occur until February 11 and 18, 2020, respectively. Record
Doc. No. 9. It appears at this time that ample time to
complete discovery will remain available if ...